American Airlines Employees Reveal Low Morale And Disconnect With Management

Southwest employees are happy. Delta employees are proud. United Airlines employees are a mixed bag. Oscar Munoz made progress on the culture while he was CEO. On the other hand flight attendants union AFA-CWA has a scoring system at United which reports on cabin crew unhappiness at United. 91% of their members reported feeling unvalued by their company and 99% felt their issues are unresolved.

But what about American? In 2017 American Airlines surveyed employees on the state of the company and the results were abysmal. For instance,

  • Only 41% of American Airlines employees believed that the airline’s management makes “the right decisions that take care of customers” and only 32% believed American’s leaders listen to and “seek to understand the frontline team member experience.”

  • Only 33% believed leadership makes “the right decisions that support” employees. Fewer than half believed they have “the flexibility to meet the needs of our customers who fly American” when things go wrong.

The next year American repeated the exercise but shared only a snapshot of results with employees. Employees kept asking, but management kept things close to the vest.

They didn’t like the results, so they didn’t repeat the survey for 2019 and eventually they just stopped asking the questions.

A thread on social media draws out some of the current themes. Bear in mind that online comments will generally skew negative. People are more inclined to post complaints than praise, and the more indifferent won’t post at all.

There weren’t any positive comments posted. Here’s a sampling of what employees shared.

  • A mechanic offered,
    America West management (LUS) has trashed the place. I mean this in the sense that the management team doesn’t have a clue how to dig out this airline from the financial / operational hole DP put it in prior to Covid.

  • It’s not a place to be proud of,

    I feel like I work for America West Airlines circa 2004. It’s not a terrible place to work, but man our product is so lackluster compared to the competition.

    America West/US Airways destroyed this place. AA had its issues, but we were proud of the brand prior to the merger.

  • The place has changed and no longer tries to be the best.

    I’m a 2013 AA hire and as much as I still love my job, this isn’t the company that hired me. At the time we were competing with Delta and United to be the best product in the US. We’ve given up that fight to be the cheapest product possible while still qualifying (aka charging) as a mainline airline instead of a low cost carrier.

  • Constantly cutting corners:

    Honestly this is exactly it. When I was hired by LAA in ’14 they told us they wanted to be the airline people would pay a little more to fly because the producer was better. Ever since FOI it has felt like every corner possible has been cut.

    That aside, I’ve never been at a company where the work force and exec level management have SO much distain for each other

  • Declining quality and no sense of purpose.

    When I joined AA, Bob Crandall was the CE0 and he was stainless steel. Ever since the merger and within the past 11 years, I have seen an uncontrolled free fall in the quality we are delivering to customers, and it’s embarrassing to say I work for AA. Personally, I think we need a complete reset with NEW management, not those brought over from LUS. New hires don’t give a shit. It’s just a paycheck. We need to be a leader and NOT a follower. We need to adopt the core values of Chick Fa LA , service purpose driven and pursue what’s next

  • No longer premium.

    America West/USAir has totally destroyed AA. Turned it into a bargain basement airline. Parker AND Isom both said they want to be “just like Spirit”. Premium product is a joke compared to what AA was. They turned American to the worst airline in the world.

  • Operational reliability is all that matters (but they still lag in reliability, and they need both reliability and quality to attract customers):

    I do think it’s obvious to the majority of employees that upper level management doesn’t really care about the quality of the product. Emphasis is placed on hitting performance targets above all else.

It doesn’t matter if some of the claims are over the top, like “worst airline in the world.” They obviously aren’t that! But the point is that it’s how some employees feel about their company and their job and they bring it to work.

And my sense is that they are largely correct that the emphasis is on cost-cutting and operational metrics; that the focus for several years has been on competing with low-cost carriers and not premium ones; and that there’s been little attention to detail paid.

Getting the little things right isn’t something that costs more, but it’s not something that’s been rewarded at the company. Often paying attention to the details saves money, and failing to do so is costly. The seating debacle of Oasis – American’s new domestic interior program – is a perfect example. They didn’t build a mock up. They didn’t notice how bad the premium cabin configuration was or how tough the galley set up was. They then had to retrofit the retrofits (Project Kodiak).

Paying attention to what meals and wines are serves, rather than just checking a box that there are meals and wines, gets better quality for the money. You’re already paying flight attendants to be on board, so offering consistent service standards that get more than lip service doesn’t cost much more. But these things haven’t been core values at the airline.

American Airlines used to talk about ‘making culture a competitive advantage’ but lacked a mission statement and employees didn’t even know what they were trying to deliver or shoot for – a low cost carrier experience or a premium one?

Then they sought to passionately pursue efficiencies and employees have been even more lost. Meanwhile “caring for people on life’s journey” sounds like they’re an assisted living community. Can you really blame employees for not seeing a clear path to quality?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. When managers have no humour , this sort of distrust by the employees will increase .

  2. Sorry to sound cold hearted but I’m pretty old school and never bought into the “workers need to be happy” BS. It is a transaction and if they don’t like the work/pay go somewhere else. Also, any survey will find a disconnect between low/mid level employees and executives. As a former senior executive of 4 different national companies frankly workers have no clue what it takes to run a company, the decisions that have to be made or the issues you deal with. It is a lot more than make a bunch of replaceable parts feel “happy and valued”

  3. I’ve been a loyal employee to this airline for over 11 years as a Flight Attendant. We were promised to be the worlds greatest airlines, new fleet, new cabin interiors, first US carrier with direct aisle premium cabins, only carrier with First Class etc. Since then every differentiating product has been gutted. We no longer are a competitive innovative airline. Everyday on the job is constantly apologizing for management decisions out of our control. No pajamas, no meals loaded, simplified catering because there’s not enough drivers in a hub. This place is an absolute joke. No longer do I come to work with aims to please, the goal is simply to piss off as few people as possible. We run on numbers not human factors. Got a funeral to attend, too bad, doors close 15 mins before departure? Gone are the glory days. If AA guts the loyalty program which they are testing out, there’s literally no reason to fly the airline. I personally fly free on AA or discounted rates using cash. However I refuse to give one cent back to this company, terrible hard product, terrible catering and wines. I’m personally more loyal to United. At least they have a vision.

  4. AA Plat/Plat Pro since 2010. Had flown AA and partners almost exclusively since 2010, until last year when I finally gave up and status matched to DL. A lot of people claim there isn’t that much difference between the US3, and DL has its own issues, but I notice the difference on almost every flight.

    I’m only a Plat on DL but frequently am thanked for my status when checking into the SkyClub or when boarding. That never happened with AA. The inflight meals on DL (albeit served on one tray) are a million times better than on AA– they vary based on station, actually rotate them seasonally, and seem more in touch with food people are actually eating these days (vs food people were eating 20 years ago). On AA I’ve had some of the same apps and entrees on the premium transcon flights going back to before COVID. It gets really old really quickly.

    DL isn’t as premium as they like to think they are, but at least I can tell with every step of the way that they are trying to differentiate themselves. When I fly AA it’s like everyone, from management to the front line employees, has just given up.

  5. @ac you are part of the problem. You say you were senior exe with 4 companies. Clearly you don’t understand the statement of happy employees happy customers. If you want to retain a customer you need to offer a better product than the next and part of the product is the service your employees give.

  6. @AC
    Sorry to chime in on your backwards thinking.
    Senior executive no way !!!
    I say BS.
    You have no clue on this topic.
    Bashing work groups is definitely not from a top-notch executive.
    Before entering a topic do some research. It shouldn’t be that hard for a senior executive to do.

  7. For service, customer-focused businesses, employee attitude and happiness do play a role. Just visit a Chick Fil A versus a random McDonald’s

  8. @Thing 1, yes, that’s true and at Chick-Fil-A, you also get a generous side of ” Evangelical Christian” values, including bigotry, homophobia, and a desire to impose religious views on everyone else.

  9. I’ve been saying this for many years now, “American Airlines is on a race to the bottom!” Worst yet, they (executives) don’t seem to care. Everyone and God warned them about tearing out the IFE screens, they didn’t listen to there customers and still don’t.

  10. I had the misfortune of being ticketed on 6 AA flights this week. Three of them operated, two cancellations and one misconnect. AA flight attendants are already on strike by what I observed.

  11. When the CEO (Robert Isom) has $31,000,000.00 income in 2023 while some of his full time “team members” (Flight Attendants) receive food stamps and they wonder why morale is so poor. Corporate greed at the finest!

  12. @AC – I can see why you were a senior executive at 4 companies… good execs tend to stick around.

    This isn’t just me being all warm and fuzzy. Better employee morale improves your customer service and can lower your labor costs through less churn and more available capacity when you need it. There are numerous business studies tying employee happiness to business performance across many industries – there’s a reason your beliefs are “old school”, because it doesn’t work.

  13. Greedy employee for a high school graduate requirement they got paid well. They just need to work more hours and get rid of their entitled mentality. Grumbling about low wages when the hours are limited with min start of $30/hr. With that wages for full time employee they can earn over $60k/year not 20k per year. They have great benefit of fluting for free for themselves and family that other foreign airlines don’t have. Very bad entitlement culture

  14. The higher up the corporate ladder, the lazier they become.
    Add to that the pervasive crony capitalist mentality of these exec types and you have a recipe for disaster.
    I blame the MBA pump from schools like Harvard where they teach short-term-ism and narcissism.
    It’s so easy for a CEO of a large airline to blame pilots and flight attendants for everything that is wrong with the airline, while at the same time taking naps behind the mahogany desk and play golf the rest of the time.

  15. Well, I only became an American customer when we moved to DC. Previously I was a midwestern United guy, but AA flew nonstop DCA-MIA 😉

    But I’ll fly AA Flagship First DCA – JFK – Transcon – LAX – Swivel Seat – SYD for 75,000 miles anytime I can! Eat in the Chelsea and Qantas lounges. Sleep on the AA planes

    See next month’s Birthday Round the World trip. Need to get to SYD for Qatar A380 First / Al Safra lounge then DXB to fly EK First game changer to BRU (while getting my sneakers cleaned in the lounge) Then trains to Munich and LH A380 First home

    I also agree on the comments calling out the Hate Food!
    BTW, Gary, I do enjoy your mild rantings and ravings on AA 🙂

  16. Sounds exactly like the type of often unrealistic comments frequent flyers post in forums like this. it is a real tragedy that, 90 years ago, Congress bundled airlines in with railroads and allowed the strange unionization rules that still prevail. Everyone, including employees, would be better off if they did not exist. One benefit would certainly be that employees would not be trapped by seniority rules and feel compelled to stay, when they should seek employment elsewhere. (perhaps at another airline ). I am also certain that the employees who are satisfied with their employment don’t post. Not much can be done about this, because a change in the laws controlling employee structures at airlines is politically impossible at this time. Rather, everyone will continue to muddle through. This is possible given the barriers to entry in the industry.

  17. I have 40 years with the company and we do not care about customer service any more. It costs too much money. We won’t reroute u onto another airline if u miss or if your flight is late. We make u wait in line for hours. We close our counters down n hand you a card to call and to rebook with. Sorry look how much the CEO’s of UA n DL made! 9,000,0000 n 18,000,000. Vasa wasn’t the issue. Isom is. Time to go!

  18. @Ed — your comments reflect a very socialistic attitude that comes from not actually working as a capitalist. I assure you the higher-ups at American, as well as all other airlines, work very very hard. It is a very difficult industry. Nobody near the c-suite is coasting.

  19. The three major union bought hook, line and sinker into the line Parker and his bottom feeders from USAir/AmWest fed them and are getting what they deserve. While feeling some empathy for the non-union employees who got steam rolled at the time, they have sense rolled over and bought the union line and are getting nothing but ripped off as they dump their pay into union coffers.

  20. I think a lot of these comments are overly harsh and a few just plain wrong.

    Overall the hard product is pretty decent, the fleet is very uniform and is the youngest of the big 3 (a verifiable fact).

    As a Platinum Pro {oneworld Emerald}, the travel experience is nice – I’ve been thanked for my business many times, the WiFi is fast and the meals are improving lately too.

    I enjoy the lounge network especially the Flagship Lounges.

    I’m not saying there aren’t any issues but let’s be fair and present a more accurate picture.

    At the end of the day, I want to get from Point A to Point B in a safe and enjoyable manner. American gets the job done for me.

  21. “They didn’t like the results, so they didn’t repeat the survey for 2019 and eventually they just stopped asking the questions.”

    A perfect example of the stunning ineptitude of AA management. Sending out an employee survey that shows lots of problems? No problem, just ditch the survey. That’s much more effective than actually addressing the problems.

    What I find ironic about all this is that I’ve flown a lot of AA over the last year and without fail the FA’s have been good to amazing. Last month I flew AA LHR-JFK in first and while there were numerous shortcomings the very senior flight attendants were a delight. It just comes across as asinine for AA to not try to placate the people customers interact with the most but that’s what passes for competence these days at American.

  22. What is without a doubt is that AA has a revenue problem which largely originated with management and it is compounded by the bad weather that plagued Texas last month and has destroyed operations in S. Florida this week.
    It is certain that some of the passengers that need to connect via MIA are simply buying tickets on other airlines. The loss of capacity will hurt revenues esp. for AA, B6 and NK.

    We’ll see in a month when earnings season starts for the 2nd quarter but when bad management decisions are compounded by mother nature which no one can control, employee and customer satisfaction fall victim to survival skills.

  23. @mina you are misinformed since $30/hr for flight attendants is not a true $30 an hour and is only paid when the aircraft door is closed. With all the FAA legalities flight attendants cannot possibly work a 40 hour paid work week. So maybe do some research instead of spewing your misinformed entitled opinions.

  24. I’ve been an AA EXP since 2013 (and was a Delta Diamond until 2018 as well.) There is no doubt that AA is a mess. There is no vision. The strategy is suspect. The domestic product is poor, and while the international product remains strong, it is less accessible and less relevant as AA pulls back from premium and international flying. AA has been going in the wrong direction for some time, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of change.

    My view, knowing several AA insiders at the senior management and leadership level, is more nuanced than the common “US Airways took over” perspective. Both companies, cultures, and management teams had their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, the US Airways product sucked, but the management team had a proven track record of flexible, innovative thinking as they ran a profitable airline out of B-tier markets like Phoenix or Charlotte. Yes, It’s popular to associate Bob Crandall with “the glory days” of AA, but he fueled a fear-based, risk-adverse culture that maintains today. Unfortunately, the AA we got was a worst of all worlds merger. This is an airline that has decided to “play it safe.” There is no vision or ambition, and there is either no willingness and/or no ability to compete with DL or UA.

    Before we say it’s all US Airways fault, look at Scott Parker and crew implementing the Tom Horton circa 2014 playbook at United with great success. As for me, I just status matched to 1K and am not looking back.

  25. A lot of people that complain about issues with leadership are in positions of leadership

    Have change start with you

    Most of these whiners have about “leadership” is compensation and more benefits. They never say how THEY will do better and give the customer a better experience

    Quite frankly most airline staff if the the companies ran them properly would be fired for terrible customer service but than again
    you get what you pay for

  26. Karma. When the FA union was pushing the merger hard and fast, I was a hard core NO. Those of us who spoke up were belittled and called “rogue and misinformed”. Even when a NO vote was procured by a slim vote to this contract, Laura Glading (APFA pres at time, also cousin to a VP at USAIR….hmmm…..)overturned the vote and accepted the pile of poop thrown at the FAs. A lot of us felt “forced” into retirement since there was NO Way we were working under the IMPOSED contract. I gave 30 years to AA and saw this sh*tshow coming. I’m just sitting back eating my popcorn and watching the cards fall and the FAs whining. Next time, listen carefully and read every page of the contract. TBD and “at the company’s discretion” are biting you now…………This management has no moral compass or soul.

  27. @AC You can’t have quality if you don’t have a valued engaged workforce. Look at what Boeing is experiencing. As a Lean 6 sigma black belt for a large aeronautics company, I can tell you that process improvement with engaged employees saves money, less mistakes and rework that drive up costs, while providing quality that drives business with repeat customers.

  28. Parker was to busy trying to make chomos welcome at AA than trying to run an airline.

  29. @Maxi: “When the FA union was pushing the merger hard and fast, I was a hard core NO.”

    I think you are forgetting that AA was going down the bankruptcy hole at the time.

    It was never a merger. US BOUGHT AA in a pre-packaged bankruptcy.

    Your choices were the deal offered or hit the street unemployed. There was no third option.

    @Mina: clueless does not even begin to describe your level of ignorance on how flight and cabin crews are paid.

  30. I just started my 39th year as a flight attendant (legacy AA) I was a B-scaler when hired and Mr. Crandall was no friend of labor, BUT he had vision and delivered a top notch product. Since his departure our CEO’s have produced a parade of unfortunate events, most glaring, the purchase of TWA & the merger with US Airways. Parker & Isom have been in over their heads since day one. They deal in metrics that are focused on on-time departures (at any cost) since their bonuses are tied to that. They don’t care about the product, the passengers or their employees and it shows every day. All of our upper management & the BOD needs to be replaced ASAP if we have a chance at turning this disaster around. I love all the armchair quarterbacks on here who think that flight crews have no knowledge of what goes into running an airline. I feel pretty confident in saying long time employees could do a better job at running the company than those currently in charge. All of us miss the AA that hired us.

  31. The low morale is not surprising. It reminds me of the saying: “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

  32. Apparently, @lavanderialarry cannot be bothered to actually enter a Chick Fil A and determine the atmosphere for its-self because if it had, it would know it is lying through its (likely) crooked teeth.

  33. @ Mina
    Agree that free fluting is a very nice benefit, and frankly one that I wasn’t even aware was available to the rank and file. Who knows what other hidden perks are offered to those loafers and scalawags!

  34. To think that at one time AA was the innovative airline that differentiated itself and really raised the bar with “More room throughout coach” before the industry completely monetized extra leg room in coach. Now it’s the airline that I would rely on less than Frontier.

  35. In 2014, a friend of mine who worked on Beverly Goulet’s integration team shared an interesting story. During a meeting between American Airlines and US Airways’ survey teams, the AA team asked for customer satisfaction survey data from their US Airways counterparts. The US team revealed that they only surveyed employees, believing that customers chose them based on cost and schedule alone. When the US team requested AA’s internal employee satisfaction data, the AA team candidly admitted they didn’t survey employees because they already knew they were unhappy.

    My friend remarked that the post-merger airline would either evolve into a company that cared about both employees and customers or become one that didn’t care about either.

  36. I only worked for AA for a year after they bought TWA in 2001 but it was like night and day. I chose rightly not to come back when I was recalled from furlough. The TWA flight attendants were screwed twice, put behind every single AA employee and then behind the USAir employees who were slotted in. I feel sorry for the 400 remaining.

  37. Sad 33yrs and retired in 1999 from AA
    I don’t even remotely recognize this airline . I did fly once last year & paid full fare and that cinched the deal for me , Never again !
    I fly Delta

  38. I was at AA in 2017 and 2018 when the surveys were done. I was an app developer in IT, and I was pretty content, but I knew pilots, FAs, AMTs, gate agents, etc., were not. I had a strong suspicion the results of the survey would be whitewashed. And they were. Upper management can get away with ignoring people for a while, but not forever.

  39. Total disconnect between Frontline workers and management. I’ve been a flight attendant for 40 years and it’s sad what this airline has turned into. Nobody cares because we are tired of apologizing to passengers. Nobody cares about us so we don’t care. Morale is at an all time low. It’s sad.

  40. As a 10+ year frontline employee for this disastrous airline I have NEVER been more disillusioned and resentful of this current management team. They are absolutely incompetent and have destroyed this airline, it’s sad to see. We don’t even try to apologize or care anymore because it’s pointless. We are all hopeful that the Board will wake up and clear house, but we don’t see that happening.

  41. Recently retired from AA. I started with USAirways and was proud to be part of the merger and to work for AA the first couple of years. Now I don’t tell anyone I worked there who doesn’t already know because I’m actually embarrassed. Isom and his cronies don’t care about employees or customers and it shows. Why on time departures are the be all end all, I’ll never understand. Even customers don’t care about that. They care about price, being treated well, and on time arrivals.

  42. 2016-2017 I worked for AA.
    In Summer of 2017, I left AA and joined Delta. The difference was like night amd day. No vision, no clear annual goals, management clueless and careless, the employees just follow the pattern.

    Even eight years later, just got worse. The entire American Airlines establishment is keeping going backwards.

  43. I am the husband of a 32y career AA FA. I also a senior partner in a successful small business. It is hard to watch someone get ready for a job that she used to love and now needs to ‘psych’ up for.
    Your Frontline employees are your money makers. They provide the service that makes your company stand out. My employees come to work early, stay late and enjoy their days. We pay them above average salaries, provide some perks, but most of all listen to their wants and needs. Management at AA needs to get their head out of their asses and spend some time with their people. Take the time to listen and see what employees need. Read these comments and start managing.

  44. I feel that US Airways at least tried to engage with employees to see what they needed to do their jobs. Since we’ve emerged with American Airlines not so much. Some of us have a saying if there’s a longer more difficult way to do something American Airlines will find it and implement it in the policy.

  45. AA executives HATE their employees other than the pilot group! Let’s just say it. I’m an EP with AA and fly 3-4 times a week and talk to their frontline employees and always thank them for what they do for me. I’m alarmed at what these employees have to say about this company and the way they are treated. I do not know of any employee group that in any industry, other than airlines that would go 5 years without a raise or improvement in their work life. Do you? The flight attendants that I speak to have had it and I do not blame them. Management does not care about the employees or customers. They do not have to. It’s a revolving door. If 50 customers leave another 50 come in. AA has turned in to low cost carrier with some added perks. That’s it. I will continue to fly them only because of the AAdvantage program and their Admirals club. I use my miles of other carriers and never on AA. I feel for their employees. You see it in their faces and it doesn’t matter what city you fly to. Money talks. My dad always told me you get what you pay for. Treat employees right (other than the pilots) and they will treat you right as well. I would never work for any airline and would discourage anyone from going into this industry in any capacity unless you want to be abused, insulted treated like s**t!

  46. C.R. Smith ran this airline based upon ‘READINESS’, a lesson learned while he ran the WW2 AirTransport Service. LUS BEAN COUNTER MBAs do not store enough parts at the Hubs & Stations to keep their planes in Tip/Top condition. LUS spends a fortune shipping parts to fix planes at night. It seems the BofD extract every cent of profit for themselves. While the hangars have to rent ground power/ PCA units, as the hangar bay electrics don’t work(5yrs for one bay!). PCA(AirConditiong) has not been available from floor ducts for MANY YEARS! When MGT does not care, neither do we care.

  47. Sad but 100% true! I’m an original American Airlines employee and was very proud of that. USAir has run our good name in the ground. We use to take care of our passengers, not any more. They want automation to do it all. They have restricted front line employees of helping. Corporate greed and non caring management is in control. We are all numbers.

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